A rooster with a black tail stand in a side-profile behind a reddish-brown hen, and three fuzzy yellow chicks who are eating from the ground

The dentist

I was a show-stopper in high school. Captain of the basketball team. Straight-A student.

Yep. Those are prescriptive goggles, tightly secured with a band, sure to fog up at every free-throw. What you can’t see from this grainy photo, curtesy of the local news, is that I am wearing a knee brace because I grew into this show-stopping bod too quickly and my ligaments couldn’t keep up. And that open mouth? I am a mouth-breather, I’ll admit, but I couldn’t have closed my mouth anyway due to the mouthguard protecting my expensive fake front tooth. In a basketball injury the year before, some girl tried to put a ball through my legs and as I bent down to stop her (mouth full of braces at the time), she popped up and I took her cranium to the tooth. I still remember the pain reverberating through my attached teeth. My parents had to fork out a lot of money on the replacement tooth and prioritized the purchase of that beauty mouth guard. Couldn’t afford contacts though, so I lucked out and got strap-on goggles.

I eventually lost the goggles when my sister hit me in the face with a ball and they broke. I was torn up about it.

That tooth, though, it stuck with me. Or rather, it has caused me a bit of grief through the years. It has fallen out on more than one occasion, and I’ll tell you from experience, that really changes the look of a person.

On one of those occasions, I lost my tooth in the Caribbean. I was backpacking on a shoestring budget, island hopping, and generally living the life (years after high school, free from braces and goggles, etc.). I was taking scuba lessons and it was the day we finally got to practice breathing at the bottom of the shallow end of the ocean. The instructor warned us that we might feel the need to panic a bit, but to just keep breathing through the diving regulator mouthpiece and we’d get used to it.

Sure enough, when we got to the bottom, I started to panic, but not because I couldn’t breathe, it was because I was scared to swallow the front tooth that was now rattling around in my mouth. I made a signal to the instructor that I was surfacing, and he gently tried to push me back down, motioning for me to breathe in and out. I defiantly pushed past him to the surface, de-regulated and saved my tooth.

I’m not sure why the tooth fell out at that moment, but luckily there was a dentist on the island…

While I waited for the dentist, a nice, elderly Caribbean woman handed me a chair and told me to:

Sit in da shade wit da roosta men.

Roosta Men: a group of 8 local boys encouraging one boy (the one cradling the rooster in his arms) to kill the bird with a large rock.

The privileged white girl that I am didn’t particularly want to witness this and vomit before I saw the dentist, so I turned away. Luckily the Roosta Men chickened out anyway, ha.

Enter – the dentist.

He strolled past me, shirtless (apparently he had been on the beach relaxing when one of the Roosta Men retrieved him). He flashed me a bright smile with a spacy group of teeth and invited me in.

Into his office I went, simultaneously reluctant and eager, and hoping desperately he would put a shirt on, and at the very least wash his hands or wear gloves. He did all three. Phew.

I was handed a cup and a napkin to hold as he easily pulled my tooth from its socket and started to look around, prodding my gaping hole with a metal pick that I had to assume was sterile.

Then, he took the pick out and smelled it.

I didn’t believe it at first. I thought, Jenn, you are being too critical and now you’re imagining things. But then, not only did he do this a second time, he actually said:

Don’t cha worey about me sniffin tings. Da people ear tells me I be nasty, but it’s my extra tool.

…Okay…whatever, I need a tooth.

Now it was my turn to smell. “Smell dat,” he says, as his hand pushed a different metal probe unnervingly close to my nostril. “What dat smell like? Dat smell like cloves?”

“Uh…yea?” I said, not sure where this was going.

“It’s not cloves, it’s a plant extract… best ting for sanitizin ‘n disinfectin.” Then he shoved it into the hole. “And rinse…”

Using a dental spray nozzle, he managed to get 90% of the water all over my chest. “I keep my customers happy, ya know. Keep ’em nice and cool wit’da constant douches.”

…Okay…it was hot…

Now for the cement. I repeated to him that it needed to be non-permanent, a temporary fix – direct instructions from my dentist back home.

“I’m gonna use da same stuff your dentist use, but da difference is it ain’t never gone come out! It woulda nevera come out in da first place if I’da done it.”

…Right…permanent then…

I was thinking I would have to blow my entire budget on this tooth and wind up living on sea snails for the rest of my travels, but at this point, if I got to leave with a secure tooth in my mouth, I’d be a happy woman. Instead, he said he’d only charge me the consultation fee if I promised to send him a postcard if it ever fell out, or if I made it back home and it hadn’t fallen out – provided I didn’t eat apples, bite my nails or eat Snickers.

All in, including the use of his extra tool, multiple douches, and extra-permanent cement, he charged me 100 Lempiras (or $5.00 at the time). The experience – Priceless.

Like I said, that wasn’t the only time my tooth has fallen out, but to his credit (and my dentist’s bemusement), that one lasted by far the longest.

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